November 09, 2010

Nailing the Essence

Once, when his father was alive, Langdon had heard his mom begging his father to “stop and smell the roses.” That year, Langdon bought his father a tiny blown-glass rose for Christmas. It was the most beautiful thing Langdon had ever seen. . . the way the sun caught it, throwing a rainbow of colors on the wall. “It’s lovely,” his father had said when he opened it. “Let’s find a safe spot for it.” Then his father had carefully placed the rose on a high dusty shelf in the darkest corner of the living room. A few days later, Langdon got a stool, retrieved the rose, and took it back to the store. His father never noticed it was gone.

— from Angels and Demons, Dan Brown

Doesn’t this passage just tear at your heart? Isn’t it amazing that such a tiny detail can say so much about an entire relationship. In only 124 words and one fragile, non-fragrant glass rose, Dan Brown has captured the essence of Langdon’s father and their relationship, while also saying a lot about Langdon. Of course there’s acres of room for expansion and context, and there surely were other elements in their fictious relationship, but this dart seems precisely centered in the bullseye.

It’s worth spending some time thinking about the people in your life, looking for those telling details. You may get ideas from photo albums, meditation, or journaling. They may hit while you’re walking or folding laundry or standing under a hot shower. Who knows? Muses and creativity are whimsical and can't be turned on like a faucet.

One thing is sure: if you don’t prime your mind to be alert, you probably won’t recognize them. Ask yourself questions like
“What was Yobu’s essence?”
“What best captures Yobu?”
“What do I remember about Yobu?”
“What made Yobu Yobu?”
“What reminds me of Yobu?”
Relax and let answers come to you as they will. Keep the question in mind for a few days and jot down your thoughts. Relax and run mental videos of Yobu, muting the sound to concentrate on the pictures. Notice what Yobu did. Use Yobu as a prompt to do writing practice, maybe many sessions. Add insights from this writing to your list.

Let each item on your list play gently through your mind. At some point something will pop out at you. You’ll feel a shift of certainty, a stab of recognition. You’ll know that particular image and description nail the moment with precision.

So far I’ve spoken here as if one paragraph can summarize an entire life. Perhaps at times it can. Usually it’s enough to encapsulate the essence of a scene. Building up a collection of snapshot paragraphs will expand your reservoir of material and perhaps one item will prove to be the capstone you seek.

Write now: about a relative or friend. Capture a tiny detail that sheds laser focus on their personality.

1 comment :

Bhaswati said...

Like always, you express with such clarity and eloquence. Truly, if the mind is kept open and alert, these shafts of memory can reflect themselves on the mind's screen much more lucidly. I say this from experience.

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